2016-05-26 / From The Garden

Asparagus Time!

By Cynthia Gibson


An asparagus bed will produce over and over again, offering harvests for 20 years. An asparagus bed will produce over and over again, offering harvests for 20 years. It’s time to celebrate asparagus. White, green, purple, pencil-thin, or thick stalks are waiting to be harvested.

The word asparagus is derived from the Persian “asparag,” meaning spear. Asparagus is referred to as spears to this very day.

If grown from seed, asparagus can take up to four years to produce one spear. A more expedient way is to buy plants known as asparagus crowns, typically two to three years old. The crowns come with many roots that look like legs of a gigantic spider. The time to plant is between May and June. Not all nurseries carry them, so start your hunt now. Remember, try to buy crowns that are at least three years old.

Asparagus is planted in trenches with a standard formula: 12 inches deep by eight inches wide. Cornell University shows the “W furrow” that is created once soil or rotted manure is shoveled or hoed into the middle of the trench to support the roots, after the roots have their first soil heaped on top; each crown should be spaced 18 inches apart. Leave two feet between rows of planted crowns. Lastly, fill the trench with soil you removed to make the trench and water.


Purple Passion asparagus. Purple Passion asparagus. You will not be harvesting asparagus after its first year of planting, as you want the roots to become established. Many aficionados of this glorious vegetable create asparagus beds that are quite large. The reason for this is once you plant your asparagus bed, it can last and produce asparagus for up to 20 years. This vegetable is truly perennial. It is worth the cost of older crowns, as you will be able to harvest asparagus in two years and then for many years to follow. Keep the bed weed free.

Asparagus varieties are either female or male. I suggest buying male varieties, as they are far more productive. (No comment necessary). The stalks are sturdy and plentiful. There are numerous varieties, so decide first if you would like to grow green, white or purple asparagus.


Use the “W furrow” for transplants or direct-seeded asparagus. Place seeds or transplants in the center of the mound of soil in the bottom of the furrow; this protects them from drowning, washing out, or smothering from washed-in soil. Use the “W furrow” for transplants or direct-seeded asparagus. Place seeds or transplants in the center of the mound of soil in the bottom of the furrow; this protects them from drowning, washing out, or smothering from washed-in soil. The purple varieties are prolific. Purple Passion is an excellent variety known for its color and taste. Pacific Purple is also very good but is not quite as purple. The other varieties available are great tasting, but do not have the color of the two previously mentioned. One note of importance, so you are not let down: The purple asparagus looks great sprouting out of the ground in all of its purple glory, but it turns green when it is cooked.

The pencil thin stalks of asparagus found in the supermarkets are tasty, sweet, and tender; however, they are babies. These are not a special type of asparagus. They were simply harvested young, and sold to make your taste buds happy. All asparagus look pencil thin when they are first beginning to crop. Occasionally there are one or five thicker stalks in the mix during the first few years of growing. These stalks should be left in place for two years.

The best green asparagus to grow in Rhode Island are the Jersey varieties; Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Supreme or the all-time favorite, Martha Washington, are your best choices.

As for white asparagus, there is not a clear-cut variety to plant. Any asparagus can be made to turn white as long as you continue to mound soil around it, thus shutting out all of the sunlight and not allowing chlorophyll to be made.

The best plants for blanching asparagus are grown from seed. The seeds are Asperges d’Argenteuil. Argenteuil is an area of France just outside of Paris known for growing and blanching the very best white asparagus. It will take a trip across the pond to delight your palate with these beauties, as they are not imported. You can buy the seeds and start there. It will take a great deal of patience to grow asparagus from seed, but in the long run, it is worth the cost of a packet of seeds.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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